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Preventing Drug Abuse and Addiction

The Pioneering Legacy of Betty Ford

Former First Lady Betty Ford

Photo of Betty Ford
Photo: AP

“Mrs. Ford was a courageous pioneer, a groundbreaking First Lady, and a forceful advocate for anyone suffering from addiction or breast cancer. America fought her struggles with her and learned alongside her. She was brave, outspoken, and kind. As a journalist, I had the opportunity to interview her several times and she was just fascinating. She was a wonderful woman who stood up for any human being struggling in the shadows of their personal pain. One of my highlights as First Lady of California was to honor her with a Minerva Award in 2005. My heart goes out to her entire family. Her daughter Susan is a dear friend of mine and continues to carry on Mrs. Ford’s work in such a powerful way.”

Former California First Lady Maria Shriver

Former First Lady Betty Ford may have died on July 8 of this year at the age of 93, but her legacy will live on forever. As a pioneering public spokesperson about addiction disease and about breast cancer, she helped the American public understand that we need to talk to one another about these topics—not hide from them.

In her own life, she spoke openly of her 1974 mastectomy for breast cancer and raised awareness of how the condition affected so many women. In 1978—after her husband, President Gerald Ford was defeated for election—her family convinced her to enter treatment for abuse of prescription pain pills and alcohol for her arthritis and back pain. When she emerged from recovery, she wrote openly about the entire experience in her autobiography, The Times of My Life. She also promoted the need for access to care and recovery for everyone.

In 1982, she co-founded the non-profit Betty Ford Center ( for treatment of alcohol and drug addiction, located next to the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The facility offers help and hope to individuals and their family members affected by alcoholism and/or addiction to other drugs. To date, the Center has offered its services to more than 97,000 men, women, and their families.

During the former First Lady’s funeral on July 12, 2011, several people whom Betty Ford had previously selected gave moving eulogies about how she had made an impact in so many areas of life.

Among those offering eulogies was Geoffrey Mason, a former patient at the Center who later became a member of the Center’s board of directors. Included in his moving comments that day are these reflections about her impact on those with addictions:

“The more confidence we were able to build within ourselves, and the more we watched—and listened—to your regular talks of reassurance and support , the more we began to understand what this thing called recovery was all about.

“And as the years have gone by, and the world has changed more than any of us ever would have believed, the wisdom and support we take—every day—from the [group meeting] rooms has guided us the right way.

“And you were the one who introduced us all to this, Betty. You were the one who helped us understand.”

Fall 2011 Issue: Volume 6 Number 3 Page 19